Bundle Up and Go Play Outside!

This latest blast of cold air means it’s officially winter in my book, even if the calendar says winter won’t be here until December 21.

It may be tempting to stay indoors but I’ve discovered there are plenty of outdoor activities that make it worth bundling up and leaving the cozy RV.

How about a navigation class? REI always has great classes that teach you about your newest outdoor interest. It’s easy practice navigating with short routes outside, and you can learn all about using a map and compass, and a GPS, and how to mark and follow waypoints.

And with those new navigation skills, you may want to try Geocaching.  People have hidden secret caches across the landscape – in remote areas, in city parks, and even underwater – and it’s fun for the whole family to go find them. These days, you can even use your smart phone. I’m thinking it would be fun to plan geocaching stops along the route for every RV road trip! Here’s a video that walks you through your first geocache adventure.

Finally, if you like hiking and you’re heading to a place with snow on the ground, consider snowshoeing. You can rent snowshoes and discover the winter landscape in a whole new way. Many of the National Parks offer snowshoeing trails, so browse their website to find a park near you.  They’ve also got a calendar of winter activities if you need more inspiration.

Now, the weekend is here! I suggest you bundle up and go play outside!

~ G. Elaine Acker

Winter Hiking Tips

Winter Hiking Tips

Last week as one of the first cool fronts of the season moved through Central Texas, one of my friends made a comment about “hiking season.” Now, I’ve never really thought of hiking as a seasonal activity. If you’re taking your camper to one of Texas’ prime hiking spots, you’ll just get the latest weather report and add a few more layers, right? After all, you could very well be wearing shorts at Thanksgiving.

But if the temperatures dip dramatically, or you’re thinking about mountain hikes in neighboring states like New Mexico or Colorado, you may very well have a few more things to consider as you plan your hike. Here are a few tips.

Wear the right clothes:  The bottom line is that you’ll have a lot more fun if your teeth aren’t chattering. This means wearing a base, insulating, and outer layer. (You’ll want to avoid cotton, which loses its insulating ability when wet.) There are plenty of high-tech clothes out there to choose from that will keep you warm, dry quickly if they get wet, and give help you stay comfy all day long.  Choose a sturdy pair of hiking boots over your lightweight summer boots, and if you haven’t looked at the amazing selection of socks on the market lately, spend some quality time with the experts at your local sporting goods store. A good pair of socks or two will be well worth the investment.

Pack Emergency Supplies: Even if you’re going for a short day hike, the weather can change quickly. Take an extra windbreaker or rain poncho as added protection from rain or snow, along with a fleece hat and gloves. Chemical heat packs and a flashlight can also come in hand, as well as extra energy bars and water.

Enchanted RockTake a Buddy: It’s always a good idea to hike with a buddy, and it’s an even better idea when cold weather can throw a wrench into the best-laid plans. In the event of an emergency, two heads can definitely be better than one.

Leave an itinerary: Let someone at the RV park or the ranger station know where you’re going and when you expect to return. Park rangers can give you the latest updates and safety tips on your selected trail, and can start searching for you sooner rather than later if you do not return on schedule.

I love watching the landscape change with the seasons, and with a little preparation, winter can still be a great time to get outside and enjoy nature. Let us know if you have any favorite winter trails, or tips about great gear!

~G. Elaine Acker

10 Favorite Texas Hikes – Part 2

Earlier this week, I shared my top 5 favorite hikes. Here are hikes number 6 – 10. Be sure to send us photos from your favorite Texas hikes and you’ll be entered to win a free one-year Texas State Parks pass!

Grapevine Hills

Photo credit: Mike Sloat. Thanks, Mike!

6. Grapevine Hills – I first discovered Grapevine Hills on a Jeep tour with Far Flung Adventures. Grapevine Hills is an easy, 2.2 mile hike, which I think a lot of people overlook. That’s one of the real advantages of a Jeep tour. You’ll have a guide to show you those undiscovered nooks and crannies!

Camping: You can stay at the Basin Campground  if your trailer will fit, or, head over to Big Bend Resort & Adventures.

7. Big Bend’s Hot Springs Historic District – For years, Big Bend’s Hot Springs have attracted people who believe that the warm waters can “cure what ails you.” The buildings that served as a store and post office in the early 1900s still stand at the trailhead, and along the path, you’ll see pictographs, proving that the waters have attracted people since prehistoric times. Plan to soak in the 105-degree waters yourself, and you’ll see why!

Camping: The Rio Grande Village is a great place to set up camp if you want to visit the Hot Springs. There are 100-sites, but no hookups, and the park only accepts reservations during certain months of the year. It’s first-come, first-served, from mid-April through mid-November. Alternatively, a paved campground operated by Forever Resorts has 25 sites with hookups.

8. Hill Country State Natural Area – Located near Bandera, Hill Country State Natural Area is an undeveloped haven for hikers, mountain bikers, and horseback riders. Although the park offers 40 miles of multi-use trails, one of the best is the Comanche Bluff trail, which is a 4.2 mile loop through classic, Hill Country terrain, ranging from clear, flowing streams to rocky slopes and historic ranch buildings. My favorite memory from this park is of walking through an oak motte during the monarch butterfly migration one crisp October afternoon. Have you ever been surrounded by a swarm of butterflies? Magical.

Camping: You can camp near the the old Bar-O ranch house (no hookups available) or, if it’s not booked, in the Chapa’s Camp group camping and equestrian area where there’s electricity and water available.

9. South Rim – The trailhead for the South Rim is at the Chisos Basin, and at 13.5-miles, it’s Big Bend’s longest trail. This hike will take you a full day, and you’ll need to take plenty of water with you. I guarantee that the diverse meadows and forests along the way, combined with the panoramic views of the Chisos Mountains from the top, will make it worth the effort.

Camping: If your rig is 24-feet or less, you can plan to camp in one of 60 available sites at the Basin Campground. The winding roads to the basin and the small campsites make it challenging for longer trailers to make it to this camping area. As an alternative, check out Big Bend Resort & Adventures.  They have 131 sites and full hookups.

10. Boquillas Canyon  – A fit of nostalgia puts this one on the list. It’s a short, 1.4-mile round trip hike, but Boquillas Canyon on the list because I’m remembering the days when it was possible to hike the canyon without a care in the world, and freely cross the border. Here, I waded in the water with my sisters, visited a Mexican cantina, and practiced my Spanish with patient villagers.

With any luck, the border will be open again soon (it was originally scheduled to reopen last Spring, and my fingers are crossed for this fall) reconnecting Boquillas with its extended Big Bend family on the other side.

Camping: The Rio Grande Village is a great place to set up camp if you want to visit the Hot Springs. There are 100-sites, but no hookups, and the park only accepts reservations during certain months of the year. It’s first-come, first-served, from mid-April through mid-November. Alternatively, a paved campground operated by Forever Resorts has 25 sites with hookups.

Those are my favorites. What are yours?

Be sure to visit the Camper Clinic II Facebook page and click “Like” to add another dollar to our donation to help protect Texas State Parks! AND, be sure to share the campaign link with friends!

~G. Elaine Acker

10 Favorite Texas Hikes

This month, we’re highlighting Texas Parks and Wildlife. And for every new “like” on Facebook, Camper Clinic II is donating $1 to help save Texas’ State Parks.  Please “like” our page on Facebook and “share” links to our campaign with your friends and fans!

Cattail Falls

Many thanks to Lance Snead for sharing this gorgeous image from Cattail Falls in Big Bend National Park!

What makes a great hike? Sometimes it’s the scenery or the history, but most often, for me, it’s the memories made along the way.  Which means that what really counts is that you take that travel trailer out, set up camp in your favorite landscape, then go outside and play!

This morning, I started writing this post to highlight a few of my favorite Texas State Park hikes. But then I started remembering good times in Big Bend National Park, the “favorites” list kept getting longer.  So I’ll share my top five here, and post the next five later this week. I’ll be interested in hearing your suggestions for new favorites, too!

Here are the first five on my list of 10 personal favorite hiking spots and ideas about where to set up your camper:

Seminole Canyon State Park – Located in Comstock, Texas, just west of Del Rio, Seminole Canyon was home to prehistoric Indians. The park offers guided, 2-mile hikes (moderately strenuous) to the bottom of the canyon and then up to the Fate Bell Shelter, one of the oldest cave dwellings in America. The first time I visited and saw the rock art paintings, the place captured my imagination, and made me wonder what it would take to not only survive, but thrive, living in the Chihuahuan Desert. I started meeting with archeologists and first wrote an article for Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine, and later, a book called Life in a Rock Shelter. This hike remains my favorite after all these years.  

Camping: Facilities include 23 campsites with water and electric hookups.

Colorado Bend State Park – Near Bend, Texas, Colorado Bend is situated on the Colorado River. There’s plenty to do there, from fishing and paddling, to wild cave tours, but one of my favorite activities is the hike to Gorman Falls. It’s a 1.5-mile round trip hike on the guided tour, or, a rugged, 3-mile hike along the Gorman Falls trail. At 60-feet high, the falls are startling, with rushing water and ferns you’d expect to find in a lush tropical environment rather than Central Texas.

Camping: Facilities include 9 “boon docking” campsites. There are no hookups or dump facilities.

Cattail Falls – My sister and I discovered this hidden gem of a hike courtesy of our friends at Far Flung Adventures, and I’m sharing it with you on the condition that you promise you’ll treat the area with the utmost respect. The ecosystem along this trail is so fragile you won’t find the trail on the park maps.

The trailhead is off Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive near Sam Nail Ranch (you’ll turn onto an unmarked dirt road and travel about a half mile to the trailhead. Once you’re there, you’ll see a sign by an oak.) It’s a four-mile round trip hike, and on a morning hike, you may see a diversity of wildlife along the trail. The real attraction is at the end of the trail, however, when you’ll find a cascading waterfall and crystal clear pool. (You’re basically on the back side of the popular “window” formation in the basin.) Please do not go into the pool! Just sit beside it, relax, and enjoy a quiet break.

Sunset at Big Bend Resort

I’ve enjoyed a few warm sunsets at Big Bend Resort.

Camping: You can stay at the Basin Campground if your trailer will fit. Because of the winding roads and small campsites, park officials advise those towing trailer rigs of 20 feet or more to think twice before attempting to camp at the Basin. Alternatively, you may want to check out Big Bend Resort & Adventures.

Santa Elena Canyon – It’s the sound of a canyon wren I remember most from this hike. The trailhead starts at the end of Ross Maxwell scenic drive and is only 1.7 miles long. It can get interesting, though, as you cross Terlingua Creek. Be sure it’s safe before you cross. If the current is swift, you’ll want to save this hike for another day. If it’s safe to cross, you’ll follow the trail into the canyon, along the Rio Grande, and through huge bounders.  Pack a lunch, because you’ll want to hang out awhile along the river.

Camping: Try making Big Bend Resort & Adventures your home base. They have 131 sites and full hookups.

 

Enchanted Rock

Sometimes, it’s about sharing the hike with someone fun! It was chilly, but my friend Sharon and I had a blast at Enchanted Rock!

Enchanted Rock – Enchanted Rock is a 425-foot high pink granite dome with a trail that goes straight up the side of the dome. At the top, you’ll enjoy panoramic views of the Hill Country, and you can explore a small cave. This trail is a great half-day adventure, and is an easy trip from Austin or Fredericksburg.

Camping: You wont find any trailer sites at Enchanted Rock, but there are numerous choices in nearby Fredericksburg.  The Fredericksburg website should help you get started.

Where should I go hiking next? What are your recommendations?

 

Be sure to share photos of YOUR favorite hikes for a chance to win a free, one-year Texas State Parks Pass!

~G. Elaine Acker

National Trails Day

Trailwork

Celebrate National Trails Day by helping maintain your favorite hiking trails! Photo by Leigh Scott.

Some of my most memorable moments outdoors have been spent on hiking trails near some of my favorite RV camping spots.  From the sweeping desert vistas of the South Rim in Big Bend to the coastal marshes of Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge just east of Houston, I love the way hiking brings me face to face with nature.

If you’d like to play outside and get up close and personal with nature next weekend, The 20th anniversary of the American Hiking Society’s National Trails Day® is scheduled for Saturday, June 2.  Billed as the nation’s largest “TRAILgating party,” more than 2,000 events will be happening all across the U.S.  And, if you happen to be leading an event that weekend, there’s still time to register your event as well.

TRAILgating PartyEvents include trail maintenance projects, hikes, paddle trips, bike and horseback rides, wildlife viewing activities, trail dedications, and much more. “Twenty years ago, AHS built National Trails Day around the idea that for one day each year we should come together outdoors and give back to our favorite trails,” says Gregory Miller, American Hiking Society president. “Since then, people from all walks of life have been coming out in increasing numbers on NTD to celebrate our trails and the great outdoors.”

AirstreamIf you’re anything like me, it seems easier these days to enjoy the great outdoors when I know I can come back to my Airstream and comfortably crash for the evening. Some of the best camping spots I know are in Texas’s State and National Parks adjacent to some spectacular hiking trails and scenery. Check out the State Park Guide or the the Recreation.gov site for more info on the parks and facilities.

Most of all, I love hiking, because of the surprises. I just never know what I’m going to see along the trail. Really.

Cactus and fork

I saw this "art installation" along the trail in Central Texas at last year's Acker Family Reunion. Hmmm.

 What’s your favorite hiking trail? Any National Trails Day events happening in your area?

Contributed by G. Elaine Acker